By Stephen King
Dreamcather was Stephen King’s comeback novel. The first he wrote following his nearly fatal 1999 car accident, the pain he felt in the long days of recovery are reflected in its pages. Unfortunately, pain and a near death experience did not inspire King to his best writing because Dreamcatcher is one of his worst novels.
Down Syndrome from four older teenage tormenters. That act forged a bond between the four of them and their new friend that time or distance could not break.
Flash forward 25 years, the four buddies are on their annual hunting trip at a remote Maine hunting lodge. Gary "Jonesy" Jones; Pete Moore; Joe "Beaver" Clarendon; and Henry Devlin, have remained close friends all these years despite different intellectual abilities and interests. It’s been many years since they’ve dropped in on their friend, Douglas “Duddits” Cavell, but he will soon be at the fore of their thoughts.
One afternoon, Jonesy and Beaver remain behind at the cabin while Pete and Henry make the 16 mile drive through the woods for supplies. Jonesy is sitting in a tree stand, contemplating for the thousandth time taking his life when he hears noise in the woods. He raises his rifle to take down the buck. However, instead of a deer, a large man wanders out of the woods.
This hunter has been lost for several days in the woods. His behavior is odd and he’s disoriented. Jonesy invites him back to the cabin for food and blankets. While at the cabin, the man is able to reveal little about his odyssey through the Maine woods. He does, however exhibit extreme flatulence that has an overpowering aroma of rotten bananas and ether. When Beaver returns, he invites the guy to go to bed and rest awhile.
Jonesy looks outside the cabin and notices the entire wildlife population of northern Maine is trekking across the woods – bear beside deer, fox beside chipmunk – all in a vector like effort to get away from something. Beaver and Jonesy observe this for awhile, then return inside and find that their visitor has died on the toilet in a massive puddle of blood. Something alive is splashing around in the toilet.
Jonesy tells Beaver to sit on the toilet lid and hold whatever it is inside while he goes to the storage shed to retrieve some duct tape to seal the toilet. But Beaver makes a critical mistake and the creature bursts forth from the toilet. A large, alien weasel with sharp teeth makes short work of Beaver.
Jonesy returns from the shed with the tape and hears Beaver’s struggles. He tries to save his friend, then finally seals the bathroom door to trap the creature. He turns from this struggle to find a gray, alien creature standing in the cabin’s living room. The creatures head explodes and Jonesy passes out.
Meanwhile, Henry and Pete are on their way back from Gosslin’s Market with the food and beer. Snow is falling hard and the dirt trail road is treacherous. They are making their way when the round a bend and fine a woman sitting in the middle of the road. In missing her, Henry flips the Jeep. Beaver’s knee is injured and Henry has a laceration from the steering column.
They run back where the woman remains seated in the road. She is unresponsive to any overtures to communications. They make their way to a remote shed to take shelter, taking the woman with them. Henry plans to walk the remaining ten miles to the cabin to get help. Pete will stay behind with the woman.
Pete, a chronic alcoholic, decides that he needs to return to the Jeep to get beer. He makes the trek and gathers his beer. While resting, he unconsciously writes the name “Duddits” over and over again in the snow.
Pete makes his way back to the shed to find the woman is dead, having been ripped open through her ass. He is then attacked by the same creature as killed Beaver, know as a Byrum. Beaver is able to overpower it and throw it into the fire. He then sees the same migration of Maine wildlife headed out of the area. He tries to make his way to the store, but his bad knee won’t let him. He dies.
Meanwhile, the military has moved into the area and quarantined it. An alien spaceship has crashed and aliens are loose in the area. They bring with them a strange red mossy growth that the military calls “Ripley” (named for Sigourney Weaver’s character in Alien) that can apparently infect humans.
Leading this military effort is Col. Howard Kurtz, an insane, gung ho military man bent on wiping out the aliens, despite their broadcasted appeals for mercy. Kurtz leads a helicopter raid on the alien ship and slaughters them without mercy. During the operation, his second in command pipes the aliens’ plea for mercy through the common channel. Kurtz regards this as an act of betrayal and decides he will deal with his subordinate, Owen Underhill, most harshly when they return to their base.
Henry is making his way back to the cabin when he senses that his friends Pete and Beaver are dead. He hears a snowmobile headed toward him. He senses that whatever is aboard that snowmobile is not friendly and decides to hide. He sees it pass and sees that his friend, Jonesy is driving it. But it’s not Jonesy inside that head. It’s an alien presence.
Jonesy has been taken over by an alien conscience he calls Mr. Gray. Mr. Gray has but one mission: to escape the quarantined area. He taps Jonesy’s mind for his memories, not revealing his entire plan. Jonesy’s consciousness retreats into a building in his mind. This building is the Tracker Bros. shipping depot in Derry where Jonesy and his friends save Duddits from his bullies and forged a friendship and something more substantial and binding all those years before.
Looking out of the window, Jonesy can see endless rows of boxes that contain his memories. While Mr. Gray is focused on another task, Jonesy leaves the depot of his mind and gathers all of the boxes labeled “Duddits” and as many as he can that say “Derry,” sensing that Derry is Gray’s target and that Duddit and his special abilities could lead him there. When Mr. Gray returns to Jonesy’s mind, he is forced to return to the depot in his mind and Gray locks him in.
Henry is captured by the military and taken to the internment camp that once was Gosslin’s Store and farm. He is put in a pen with dozens of other civilians, mostly hunters, who have been rounded up. He notices that many have the red moss, known as Byrus, growing on them and finds that it is growing on him too, in the wound he received on the leg in the crash. He finds his sense of telepathy heightened and that normal people have telepathy as well.
Henry knows that the creature inhabiting Jonesy’s body has escaped quarantine and is making its way toward the turnpike to head for Derry. He knows that civilians are never going to leave this area alive. He reaches out to Owen Underhill telepathically for help. Underhill knows the civilians will be killed and knows his own days are numbered. Underhill agrees to help Henry escape and track down Jonesy and perhaps save humanity.
Henry uses his enhanced telepathy to convince the residents of the camp that the military means to kill them. A panic ensues and the masses are able to knock down the fences and escape. Soldiers open fire, killing at random. Henry escapes and finds Underhill who has a snowmobile waiting. Kurtz realizes what has happened and tries to kill Henry and Underhill, but they escape.
What ensues is a race and chase across Maine in a blizzard. Gray, who has a dog pregnant with a Byrum, wants to infect a town water supply to spread his race’s seed on earth. Tapping Jonesy’s memories, his sights are set on Derry.
Henry and Underhill want to catch Jonesy and stop him from infecting humanity. But Henry insists that they stop by an address in Derry to visit his old friend Duddits who he knows can help establish the mental link with Jonesy, if Jonesy is still inside his own mind, and perhaps thwart Gray.
Kurtz is pursuing Underhill to exact revenge. He has a couple troops with him and two men infected with Byrus to serve as telepathic links with Henry to help track them.
Gray acquires a vehicle on the turnpike and with Jonesy tempting and tormenting him inside his head, manages to make his way to Derry and to where the old Derry standpipe used to stand. Gray is furious when the he finds the standpipe gone. Jonesy informs him that Gray tapped an old memory because the Derry standpipe came down in the great storm of 1985 (when the Losers’ Club killed IT). Gray decides to make for Massachusetts to infect the Boston water supply.
Henry and Underhill arrive in Derry about an hour later and go to Duddits house. There, Henry finds his old friend has become a man still very much with a child’s mind. He has deteriorated badly in the years since Henry last saw him. He has leukemia and is dying. Henry asks Duddits mother to take him along on their journey. Duddits insists, knowing that he is dying and has one last adventure to go on. Duddits joins Henry and Underhill.
The chase resumes. Duddits is able to link Henry and Jonesy in his dreamcatcher in his mind. With their combined abilities, they are able to mentally overpower Mr. Gray just as he’s about to drop the Byrum into the reservoir. They trap him in a hospital inside their collective minds and kill him. With his energy spent, Duddits dies peacefully with his favorite saying on his lips: “Scooby Scooby Doo, where are you? We got some work to do now.”
Gray is dead, but the Byrum is still alive. Henry, his hip broken, is powerless to do anything. But Underhill arrives at the last second and kills the Byrum. He goes back outside where he encounters Kurtz. Kurtz wounds him twice before Kurtz’s aide kills him, knowing that Kurtz planned to kill him to eliminate any witnesses. He then performs a mercy kill on Owen Underhill who has saved humanity from alien invasion.
The novel wraps up with Jonesy visiting Henry and his family that next summer and the two of them discussing their relationship with Duddits, each other, and how it came to be that day when they saved Duddits from the bullies. They also engage in a philosophical discussion about not being alone in the universe.
Dreamcatcher is just a horrible novel. It had moments of excitement and some well developed characters. The plot was not ill-conceived. This novel is perhaps the only King novel I would say was just not well written.
The use of the phrases “Same shit, different day,” and “No bounce, no play,” made me want to tear out pages when I read them. It seemed they appeared on every page for the first 100 pages of the novel. Reinforcement lapses into redundancy. I saw no point to it.
While I’m not too awfully squeamish about anything, reliance of prolific flatulence as a plot vehicle is low brow. I could have done without this. Perhaps King was trying to find a way to birth his aliens without looking as if he were ripping off the movie, Alien. Flatulence appeared on almost every page as well.
The Tracker Brothers Depot inside Jonesy’s mind and the boxes containing his memories did not work for me. It felt to me like I was reading some sort of 1970s pop psychology self help book. King used this device a few more times after inventing it in Dreamcatcher and it just never works.
As I noted, the characters are well developed – except for Kurtz. Kurtz was a caricature. While the novel was plenty long at more than 600 pages, a little more development and complexity in Kurtz might have served the story. In Dreamcatcher, he was like a cartoon villain. He wasn't menacing. He was silly and this hurt the novel badly.
Dreamcatcher ranks near the bottom of King’s collection of novels. Better than Lisey’s Story and marginally better than Rose Madder and Gerald’s Game, it’s still not very good and I’ll probably never read it again.
We can cut Stephen King a little slack since this book was written as he endured the painful recovery from his accident. He notes in the afterword that the pain he was feeling made its way into the novel and it does show up in Jonesy who, early in the book, is run down in the street after leaving his office several years before the events in Dreamcatcher took place.
The book was originally going to be called Cancer. Tabitha hated the title, thinking it entirely too negative. She convinced him to change it. King notes that this novel was written by hand with a Waterman cartridge fountain pen – what he calls “The finest writing instrument known to man.” King also tells us that he wrote by hand one night by candlelight during a power outage. Such imagery is stirring. I wish it had inspired a better novel.